Last spring I was wondering what was next. I had fallen in love with cycling doing the My First Fondo Clinic – thriving in the daily exercise, the camaraderie and the accomplishment of riding up a mountain.
I will be honest – I love having worked out. I typically don’t love working out. Road cycling is something I enjoy more than anything else I have tried but still it’s work and it isn’t always easy to get pumped to work. I knew I needed a goal.
The previous fall I signed up for the Banff Gran Fondo. I needed that goal to motivate me all season long.
The Banff Gran Fondo (sadly not returning for 2017) was in its fourth year. An epic 150 kms along the Bow Valley Parkway. It promised stunning vistas, wildlife and even though it was August – the possibility of sleet and snow.
I had my goal, I need a team to help get me there.
When I started cycling, I thought it was perfect. Just me and my bike. I could hop on whenever I had a bit of free time and ride – by myself. I completely underestimated the power of teammates and common goals. The My First Fondo Clinic had connected me with like-minded people and they were instrumental in motivating me to work longer, harder and finish my goals.
I was facing last March’s rain, yearning for more outside time and looking forward to getting on my bike. I was wondering what was next. The coach of our training clinic was part of a cycling club and off-handedly said we could join if we wanted. Great, I thought, that is a good place to start.
The number one reason I did not join his club was simple: the website was down.
This turns out to be a lucky coincidence. Vancouver is ripe with cycling clubs. Glotman Simpson. Steed. Gastown. Kits Energy. Escape Velocity. And many, many more. I had seen many of the clubs on the road. I’ve been completely rattled by them when 75 people buzz by going 40+ km/h. Some say hi. Others cheer you along. Some are too busy bro’ing it up to make the pass even feel safe let alone like we are all apart of the same community.
From my research most of these cycling clubs didn’t seem very open to newbies. It seemed easy to find programs for novices and lots for experts and advanced recreationalists.
What about the intermediate rider? The rider who wants to go faster than 25 km/h and wants to tackle 60+ km a week but isn’t ready for 35km/h and 100km rides right out of the gate.
It never occurred to me to look for a women’s club. I had seen so few women on the road, I never thought that a feisty group would team up and start a club.
It is estimated that only 12 per cent of road cyclists are women. TWELVE! I see that on the road. I’ve had entire training days where I did not see another woman. The other women I did see tended to be amazing. Absolutely phenomenal athletes – definitely keeping up with and leading the elite clubs. New to the sport I wasn’t confident enough to enter the testosterone fest most of the clubs appeared to be. My goal was to find an intermediate-friendly club – ideally with a good mix of men and women.
Late one night I stumbled on Wow Ride Cycling. The website was peppered with #StrongerTogether, Uniting Women Cyclists, and inspiring women to hit the road.
I was barely off the home page before I was hooked. I signed up to be a part of the club’s second year. This was a club that ticked all the boxes and many more bonuses, like rides from my own neighbourhood – Vancouver’s North Shore. I would soon meet powerful dynamic women that inspired me on and off the road and a riding buddy that pushed me and pulled me along for bigger accomplishments than I could have ever expected. What a season it was – well worth a post of its own soon.
In meantime, some tips on how to pick a cycling club:
- Flexibility – look for a club with a variety of distances, speeds and abilities. This may be hard for new clubs but they should clearly define what rides they offer and how they communicate – it is never fun to be the rider at the back knowing you are holding everyone back,
- Schedule – find a club that offers a number of rides on different day and different times. If you can’t make at least two of the rides on a regular basis, perhaps you need to find a different club. If you can’t regularly attend, these aren’t your teammates.
- Passion – find a club that is active in the local cycling community. You want engaged and passionate leadership active in local politics or advocacy.
- Fun – we all love to ride but sometimes it is nice to see the group out of their kit ready for some fun. Social events can be an important part of creating a cohesive and supportive community.
- Communication – how does the club get its information out? Is the website up to date? Are they engaged on social media? Is there a weekly or monthly newsletter? You don’t want to be out of the loop. No one likes to be dropped – on or off the road.
- Education – all riders can improve their skills. Whether it is a post ride session of changing flats or improving nutrition – education sessions and full-on training days show the club is passionate about creating safe, lifelong cyclists.
Definitely do a guest ride. Check out the group dynamics and see if it works for you. Most bike clubs allow for guests to join on special days or some may simply require a small fee to cover insurance if you don’t have your own. If you ride more than twice, buy the kit and join up.
- Leadership – is the club open and transparent? Do the members feel listened to and engaged?
- The clique – again, is the club truly open or is there a little exclusive group that make others feel like outsiders? This can happen to all clubs. If there seems to be an inner circle of extra fun, extra joy, and inside jokes – give the club a pass.
On any given Saturday or Sunday each city has its classic ride routes. Hit up the rest and regroup locations and hangout. Observe the clubs different dynamics. I am on year two with Wow Ride but I know which club I will join if I switch because I have seen its camaraderie and welcoming spirit by bumping into the club on so many weekend rides.